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Sneakerheads show off devotion to rare Nikes

DENVER ” Some people collect baseball cards, some collect cars.

Ruben Santamaria collects shoes ” Air Jordans, to be specific. He spends about $2,000 a month adding to a collection that already takes up three-fourths of his bedroom. There’s just enough room left for the bed and path to it.

“Sometimes I go without eating or toilet paper. Even my girlfriend, she wants kick me out of the apartment,” said Santamaria, 27. “It’s kind of ridiculous, I know.”



This week, he drove nonstop for two days from San Antonio to Denver for a contest coinciding with the NBA All Star Game. The prize for the best collection of rare, pristine, uncracked Nikes ” from Air Jordans to Air Force 1s to Dunks ” was a one-of-a-kind pair lasered with the winner’s name.

Ten competitors, chosen from roughly three dozen applicants nationwide, displayed a total of 150 pairs of shoes. The collection was worth $70,000 to $80,000, said Steve Mulholland, publisher and editor of Sole Collector magazine, the contest sponsor.



Contestant Lany Bru, 29, an apartment manager from Ringwood, N.J., flew to Denver mailed his shoe entries.

“I don’t want to get to Denver and find out somebody removed them from my suitcase. Some of my shoes are valued at $500 to $2,000,” Bru said.

Bru has roughly 200 pairs in his collection, including a special edition LeBron James Air Force 1 Chamber of Fear pair he bought at an auction in New York. He wouldn’t say how much he spends.

“I don’t even want to discuss it. It’d probably make me sick,” Bru said.

For collectors, contests are a chance to gauge how their kicks stack up and to connect with others who understand the passion for sneakers.

“People think I’m crazy. Even my family,” Bru said.

Bru was about 10 years old when the first Air Jordans came out.

“At that age, you basically want to wear the phat sneakers. I wanted to have those sneakers when they first came out. My parents couldn’t buy it for me for that Christmas,” Bru recalls. “Maybe that’s what sparked the whole thing. I couldn’t have ’em.”

Santamaria’s love of Nikes started young, too. He couldn’t afford expensive shoes on his own. Neither could his father, a carpenter and carpet installer, or his mother, who stayed home to take care of five kids.

It wasn’t until about three years ago that he began seriously collecting. This Valentine’s Day his girlfriend, Dee Sisneros, missed out on getting a diamond bracelet after Santamaria spent $2,500 on eBay on a rare pair of Air Jordan I black toes he had long coveted.

“He made it up to me, but I was disappointed,” said Sisneros, who made the trip to Denver with Santamaria.

Santamaria has kept his hobby quiet, but he finally told his co-workers when he asked for a week off to go to the Denver contest, his first competition ever.

“Not too many people understand your hobby,” Santamaria said. “They just make fun of you. It’s not something you want to talk about. They don’t understand.”


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